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Sir Menzies Campbell: No, I want to make progress. I have been generous in giving way, and although I am not subject to the time limit on speeches I do not want to trespass unnecessarily on Back Benchers' time.
Those in favour of a constitution for Europe should be prepared to argue their case in order to reconnect the individual electors of this country with the EU. There is a large amount of shadow boxing in these matters. Foreign policy, defence and taxation are red-line issues for the whole House and exchanges designed to suggest that the Government are somehow willing to make concessions on them are artificial. Those matters are the quintessential responsibility of this Parliament; it is notable that they have not been devolved to Wales or to Scotland.
Earlier, I said that the existing treaty system is opaque. It certainly needs clarity and the purpose of the constitution is to set down and define the role and powers of the institutions of the European Union. As I have already said, we will be able to admit the accession states on 1 May; it is not constitutionally necessary to have the proposed constitution but it is politically essential.
As I have said before, we must bring an end to the constant tinkering with the constitutional arrangements of the European Union. We cannot continue to conduct the affairs of the EU as if we were engaged in a perpetual Maoist cultural revolution. When we consider what things have been like under the existing membership, we can imagine how difficult they are likely to be when there are 25 members. That culture has too often been characterised by last-minute compromise, set against a background of physical exhaustion and horse-trading.
My support arises from my unabashed enthusiasm for the European Union, which dates back to the 1975 referendum campaign when I shared platforms for the yes campaign with such distinguished parliamentarians as Lord Whitelaw, Brian Walden and Lord James Douglas-Hamilton. The yes campaign was very distinguishedeven aristocratic. I believe firmly that, as the Prime Minister and his predecessor have said, Britain should be at the heart of Europe.
As I have said before, I believe that Britain should be a member of the single European currency. I believe in an effective common foreign and security policy, which is what Maastricht envisaged. Indeed, Maastricht went on to envisage the possibility of a common defencesomething that is not much talked about these days, but it most certainly was in the treaty. A constitution of the type proposed will be entirely advantageous not only to Europe but to us, too.
The background for that is my overwhelming belief in the need for co-operation with our European partners. Let me take the illustration of international terrorism. Does anyone really believe that we can achieve success in that campaign, unless there is much more co-operation than we have previously experienced? The exchange of intelligence and the movement of individuals and money all require co-operation with our European partners. How would we make environmental advances, unless we do so co-operatively?
Lady Hermon: I am extremely grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for taking an intervention. I have waited patiently for him to address the fundamental rights aspect of the constitution, and it would be enormously helpful to those of us who have some doubts about the wisdom of the European constitution if he would do so. I raise that issue in particular because he mentioned the supremacy of community law at the beginning his speech. Of course he will be aware that five years' work has gone ahead in Northern Ireland to produce a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Bearing in mind that the provisions on fundamental rights in the constitution will also have supremacy, have we all been going through the razzmatazz in Northern Ireland needlessly on a Bill of Rights?
Sir Menzies Campbell: I would hesitate to suggest that razzmatazz in Northern Ireland had been needless. The hon. Lady, who is an expert in the field, knows much more about it than I do. Of course the charter of fundamental rights supplements and, in some respects, adds to the European convention on human rights, but the convention is one to which we have always been a signatory. The change that occurred when the Government came to power was to pass legislation that allowed British citizens the right to invoke the provisions of the convention and to seek to vindicate their rights under that convention in British domestic courts, without having to go Strasbourg.
The fact that the fundamental rights have now been introduced seems to be one of those constitutional implications to which I have previously referred. The charter introduces something new and not something for which the Government had a mandate, given their manifesto. So my answer to the hon. Lady must be that
On a number of occasions, I have talked about the need to reconnect the citizen with the European Union. Hardly a day goes by when we do not open our newspapers to find dire predictions about the number of people who are likely to vote in the next general election to the House, but how many people are likely to vote in the European elections, no matter how vigorous the campaign might be? That will be a measure of the extent to which Europe is not seen as something of significant importance in the lives of many people. That is why I argue that a referendum on the issues with which we are concerned today, allowing the British people the opportunity to pass judgment and to endorse what is proposed, would be entirely in their interests and in ours as well, so I have no doubt that the opportunity offered by a referendum is one that should not be passed up.
And disregards the rest".
The suggestion that line-by-line political scrutiny by the House would be sufficient misses the point about the disconnection between the political process and the people in the country. Endless hours in which lawyers quibble over details that are fascinating to them is not the same as forcing the British people to make a decision that we, who see ourselves as their political masters in many waysregrettably in my viewwould agree to be bound by. That opportunity should not be missed.
To those who ask what no means, I would have thought that no in a referendum clearly means that we will not accept what is being offered. Those who suggest that this would be a problem only for Britain are missing the point. A no by any country that is given the opportunity in any way to ratify the constitution and declines to do so means that the constitution has to go into the melting pot. If the Portuguese decide to vote it down, it will not be a problem solely for the Portuguese, and it will not be a solely British problem if we decide to vote it down. It will be a problem for all those who are gathered together to debate how matters should be progressed. We must reject completely the assumption that we cannot have a referendum in case we come out with what the Government would see as the wrong decision that leaves us isolated in Europe. We must recognise that other countries are prepared to trust their peoples. Why are we not prepared to trust ours?
Mr. Davidson: That is an interesting point. I remind the Minister of what happened in Ireland when the people had the temerity to turn down a treaty. They were then obliged under international pressure to hold another referendum. If the Government tell us that they are willing to hold a second referendum if the people vote no in the first one and they then make substantial changes to the treaty, I would support them in those circumstances. I would be willing to support a second referendum if the first referendum resulted in rejection of the constitution. The assumption is again being made that we are the only people who might turn the constitution down. If other people reject it and we have a completely new constitution, it seems fair that the people should have the opportunity to make a further decision.